What can Steven Gerrard bring to Aston Villa?
Oliver Rickwood analyses how the newly recruited Steven Gerrard can improve performance and salvage the rest of the season for Aston Villa.
Steven Gerrard has finally ventured into Premier League management, leaving his role at Glasgow Rangers and signing a new three-and-a-half-year deal as Head Coach of Aston Villa.
Gerrard replaces fan favourite and Villa fan Dean Smith, who was dismissed after 5 straight defeats in which the team conceded 13 goals, leaving them loitering in 16th position in the league table.
Many questioned whether Gerrard could be tempted away from the Ibrox. In just over three years, he had managed to rebuild a depleted Rangers side and snatch the title back from rivals Celtic, preventing them from winning their 10th successive league trophy.
In an interview with BT Sport in late October, Gerrard initially dismissed interest from South of the border. When asked about a move away from the Scottish Premiership, he ironically responded: ‘Do I look happy? Do I look settled? Don’t ask me silly questions.’ Rangers fans clearly had nothing to worry about. Fast-forward a month, and now they are left searching for a new manager themselves.
Gerrard noted the club’s ‘rich history and tradition’ was a huge factor in tempting him to move across to the Premier League. In a statement posted on Instagram, he stated that he was ‘once a Ranger’ and will ‘always be a Ranger,’ however, many Rangers fans will hold his empty promise against him. Whether it was a possible pay rise or the enticing opportunity to manage in England, Rangers will be disappointed to cut short a rapidly developing project.
Tactically, what can Gerrard bring to Villa Park? He seems a good fit in terms of formation, favouring a 4-3-3 in his time at Rangers, the same system frequently used by Dean Smith in his tenure. However, in contrast to the system used by Smith this season, Gerrard’s game focuses on retaining a solid shape out of possession and utilising the extreme width of the full-backs in attack. Players such as Matty Cash and Matt Targett could flourish with more attacking freedom on the flanks.
Gerrard’s 4-3-3 also deploys two attacking midfielders in behind the single striker, perhaps providing hope for players such as Emi Buendia. He has struggled so far this season, only returning one goal in the league. Solidifying the defence will surely be a priority for Gerrard. Villa had conceded 20 goals in their opening 11 games this season. Perhaps he will look to bring in a more experienced defender in the January transfer window.
Off the pitch, Gerrard must also attempt to reconnect the fans to their team. The loss of club icon Jack Grealish in the summer was damaging, and the lacklustre form of his replacements have failed to fill the void left behind. An example is winger Leon Bailey, a player costing £28 million last summer and scoring merely once this season.
Despite Gerrard’s outstanding credentials as a player and his impressive record as a manager in Scotland, many fans will be questioning his lack of experience and asking whether he will be able to handle the demanding nature of the Premier League. Only time will tell if he can adapt quickly enough; in joining mid-season, a spotlight will immediately be put on the team’s performance, and more importantly, the results on the pitch.
For Gerrard, as nicely phrased by Jamie Carragher, this move is a ‘no-brainer.’ It is a comfortable step across to the Premier League to a club with a good structure, a good history, and a squad with some outstanding players.
For Villa, this exciting young manager will bring fresh ideas, a new approach, and hopefully some good results, returning the team to its impressive form last season. If he finishes in a respectable league position, this would definitely be a success for Gerrard, setting him up perfectly to build for an entire season in 2022/23.